As the May 31 deadline for our Accelerator program approaches — in the spirit of Paul Graham and Y Combinator’s Request for Startups (RFS) — Code for America is introducing an RFS of its own. Over the years we’ve uncovered a list of civic technology problems we know need solving. We’re revealing this list in the hopes that those who are already working on one of the following problems are encouraged to apply.
As with Y Combinator’s process, responding to an RFS will never be the deciding factor in who we accept. In many cases the applications we love most are those that surprise us. In addition to providing services on top of open data, bringing modern web technology to governments, and changing the way citizens request or receive services from government — the following are just some examples of what we know is needed in the civic space. Framed by CfA friend and advisor Clay Johnson, our accelerator program will consider:
Startups Building Better Forms: In many cases, a citizen’s primary relationship with government is via the form — usually the PDF form. While people can now transfer money and hail cabs with their smartphones, government applications often still encompasses filling out a PDF, printing it, and faxing it. Startups that can subvert these processes and reduce the barrier to entry for citizens will solve a huge problem.
Startups Scaling Listening: While service tracking and measurement are good things, they’re not a precise way of measuring what’s actually going on in our backyards. If there’s crime or trouble in a neighborhood, people may be turning to social media or other outlets to vent before they dial 311 or 911. Can you scale-up democracy and make it so that legislators know whether a policy is unpopular without having to run a poll? Or figure out whether crime is happening before it’s officially reported? The startup that helps government listen to community needs is one that helps government better serve the people.
Startups Revamping Government Processes: We believe that government is a platform, but sometimes that platform need retrofitting. Using technology to shave days, weeks, or months off of a request or registration is as important to the citizen experience as a well-designed form or web application. Find a vital function inside of government where constituents waste considerable time (the line at the DMV comes to mind), and shrink it by orders of magnitude.
Startups Encouraging Data Innovation: Today, when government publishes data, it’s not as simple as dragging a folder to Dropbox and clicking “share with the public.” There’s a lot that goes into it. You’ve got to vet the information — making sure no social security numbers or other personally identifiable information is in it. Ironically, redaction is a vital part of releasing important data to the public. And making the data usable and clean is a prerequisite to anybody doing anything useful with it. We’re very interested to hear ideas that *could* solve some or all of these problems and lay the pipes down for a new wave of data innovation.
Code for America seeks a diverse Accelerator class — in all regards. We seek applications from a broad spectrum of companies — in size, in the definition of civic, and in geographic location. And we encourage female and minority founded startups to apply. To apply for the Code for America accelerator by May 31, visit http://codeforamerica.org/accelerator.
Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.